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June 28th, 2007

Cheap drinking water from the world’s oceans

Carbon nanotube-based membranes: Nanotubes, special molecules made of carbon atoms in a unique arrangement, are hollow and each is more than 50,000 times thinner than a human hair. Billions of these tubes act as the pores in the membrane. The super-smooth inside of the nanotubes allow liquids and gases to rapidly flow through, while the tiny pore size can block larger molecules. This previously unobserved phenomenon opens a vast array of possible applications. Membranes that have carbon nanotubes as pores could be used in desalination and demineralisation. Salt removal from water, commonly performed through reverse osmosis, uses less permeable membranes, requires large amounts of pressure and is quite expensive. However, these more permeable nanotube membranes could reduce the energy costs of desalination by up to 75 percent compared to conventional membranes used in reverse osmosis, researchers have said. The membranes sort molecules by size and with electrostatic forces. The carbon nanotubes used by the researchers are sheets of carbon atoms rolled so tightly that only seven water molecules can fit across their diameter.


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